You pass by / visit / see a place a lot, then not at all, and then a lot again and - for me at least - it gives the place a really odd feel. It’s as if everything you once knew about that place is now no longer true, and everything you now know, is. It’s almost like you are there for the first time - some kind of feeling between being sleepy, deja vu and daydreaming. Confusing.
I’ve had a few places in Birmingham that have been like this - my experience of them continually changing - and some that haven’t. The Bull Ring markets are one of the few that haven’t - they have stayed a permanent locale in my Birmingham-head-map. I think this stems from a few things: personal interests, things which have happened to me when I’ve been there, its location. However, I will say this now: I’ve always loved them. There is something special between me and them markets. I liked them before they were cool.
The markets are due to change very soon, so I wanted to write this blog for a few reasons. Firstly, to get you to go there before they do change (mainly so you can then say ‘I remember when this all used to be ….’). Secondly, to tick off the long overdue task of getting some thoughts down about a place I love so much, and which has made Birmingham feel like home for me. Thirdly, to provoke a little thought about what the markets should look like, how they should feel and how the space should (and it should) evolve.
So, rather than just saying how much I really really really like the markets, I thought it may be better for me to share a few distinct memories I have on the markets, as a more productive way of expressing their role in my life and the lives of the people who use them.
The Greatest Can of Lilt I’ve Ever Had
This one’s simple, pure. I was really thirsty. It was hot. What do you need? A refreshing, pineapple & grapefruit based cool beverage. Where did I get it? The market, that’s where. DELICIOUS.
A Chance Encounter With A Friend of My Dad’s
I had just finished a hard bit of haggling involving four bowls of red onions, when a guy who I had not met before stops me, just by the cash point. He asks if my name is Fabio, which it is. He then proceeds to introduce himself. It turns out he is a friend of my Dad’s - they had worked together back home in Gloucestershire. My parents had recently gone to live in Italy. He asked after my Dad. We chatted. He told me he had come down for the day to visit the markets. I told him he had cheered me up.
10 Bags of Out of Date Mozzarella
Pizza. Pizza which comes close to The Real Thing. Head a bit further out to Balsall Heath’s Caspian Bakery and buy 4 naan for 1 pound. Be astonished at the quality and freshness of the bread for a little while. Then understand that a naan is cooked in principally the same way as an italian pizza base - on very hot stone. Make yourself a nice tomato sauce: garlic, oil, tomatoes, salt. Open some nice fresh mozzarella. Add some basil. Enjoy.
This would have been perfect if not for me purchasing 10 balls of out of date mozzarella from my favourite place in the world. The disappointment. The pain. The Pizza. All meaningful relationships have their ups and downs - thats why this is here. Markets - I forgive you, always.
3kgs of Sardines on New Years Eve
A very close friend, who I do not see often was visiting. We spent the whole morning at the market on New Years Eve. We arrived home with - amongst vegetables, eggs and smiles - 3 kilos of unprepped sardines. We proceeded to spend the afternoon cleaning the fish. I could not think of a better way to spend it.
What My Nonna Thinks of The Market
Back in the day, Italians used to come on the train to the market from the hives of Evesham, Swindon, Cheltenham, Worcester and Gloucester. In spite of the long and frequent journey, the fruit in this country is still horrible though, apparently.
Ben’s First Oyster
Few seem to know that you can go and have 6 oysters or fresh sushi - in the manner of a boujee London food hall - on the bull ring markets. Go and give them some love.